The deload week is a rather simple concept. An athlete or lifter needs periodic breaks of lower stress and intensity so that overreaching, and its evil cousin, overtraining don’t take up residence. Overreaching and overtraining not only derail progress, they can also lead to injury. However, deloading also forces the motivated athlete to periodically lower the stress and intensity that keeps them at the top of their game. So, the question becomes, why take time off if you don’t need time off?
There’s been a lot of debate on various Internet forums about the role of “The CNS” in lifting. Usually, this topic comes up in discussions about fatigue, with a lifter saying “My CNS is fried.” The reasoning goes something like this: look at competitive powerlifters. During a typical meet, a powerlifter attempts 9 lifts. That’s nothing in terms of volume (stress), but the lifts are max effort, high intensity. Powerlifters typically report feeling exhausted after a meet, and having to take a week or more away from the gym to recover. It can’t be stress that’s done this. So, it must be their CNS is overtaxed.
Now, in fact, a powerlifter’s CNS might well be overtaxed after a meet. However, the above line of reasoning ignores some critical factors: while only 9 lifts are attempted, these lifts are all attempted in a heightened state of arousal. The lifter has also just completed a rather long and challenging training cycle leading up to these lifts. In addition, there are a lot of psychological and emotional investment made, just as there is for any big event in a person’s life. All these factors, along with all the other daily stress of work, relationships – that little thing called “life” – contribute to stress levels.
I started to experiment with a new deload technique: one that, for lack of a better word, I’ll call the “fun” deload. Rather than avoid the work I like the most (lifting heavy things), and letting that key skill become detrained, I started picking one or two movements that I wanted to max out on, or do overload work on, during my deload week. I might, for example, put more weight on the log than I can press, and work up to a max effort clean from the ground, practicing swinging heavier weight than normal, and having that heavy weight up on my chest, having to maintain body stability and breathing while under it.
I might decide to go a new max single on the axle press. I might work on incorporating a new exercise, stone squats, and getting a feel for them. The list goes on, but there’s a common theme: low rep ME work, limited in volume, and something that I find fun. During a typical deload week, I’ll train heavy like this two days, do prehab/rehab work two days, and get in steady state conditioning work in the form of 30-60 minute walks as frequently as daily.
In this case, I think a huge part of the deload is simply getting a break from the programmed structure of the macrocycle template. When I’m getting ready for a competition, every week’s work is planned out. Before I step foot in the gym I know what I’m going to be doing, down to the number of reps in each set and the intensity level. This discipline is required; nonetheless, it’s mentally fatiguing. Introducing a little bit of “play” into my deload weeks gives me a nice psychological break and prepares me mentally to get back to the heavy lifting.